Jeremy Gill’s Sons Découpés used a musical version of the visual technique developed by Matisse, but you could listen to the melodies and the instrumental interactions without knowing that. It belonged in the general world inhabited by Debussy and even used a trio similar to Debussy’s sonata for flute, viola, and harp. Gill explored new ground — and enhanced the contrasts — by combining the harp with the lower voice of the cello and the high, melodious voice of the piccolo.
– Broad Street Review, 3 March 2015
“Sons découpés” is an echo of “gouaches découpées”; Henri Matisse first discovered his famous cutout technique during the creation of his “decoration,” The Dance, the large mural commissioned by Albert Barnes for the main gallery of his Foundation. I love the cutouts for their melding of the abstract and the figurative, and for their musical overtones: the technique of moving (temporally, in the case of music) identifiable objects around in space (time) such that their meanings change while their identities persist is as old as music itself. In my piece, some “objects,” like the opening unison melody, repeat unchanged, while others undergo substantial variation, although continuing to assert their particular characters despite these variations. In either case, the contexts in which these objects recur continually change, and these changing contexts alter the objects’ formal “meanings.”
The instrumentation of Sons Découpés is reminiscent of Debussy’s Sonata, but I wanted to more strongly contrast the colors of the instruments by using piccolo and cello instead of flute and viola, in the same way that Matisse distanced himself from the impressionists by allowing his “great love of bright, clear, pure color” to determine the tone of his works.
When Matisse finally saw The Dance in place at the Barnes Foundation in Merion, he remarked that “it is like a song that mounts to the vaulted roof.” This is one image that I consciously “set” in my piece. Otherwise, I did not attempt to compose a sonic correlate to Matisse’s mural; rather, I was guided by his recommendation to a student who was too faithfully copying the work of a master: “what must be copied is the effort, not the accomplishment.”